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On 24 May 2011, in the middle of the parliamentary debate on the so-called mid-term adjustment plan, yet another round of austerity imposed by Greece’s international creditors, a call for a demonstration at Syntagma Square in Athens and at the White Tower in Thessaloniki appeared on Facebook. By the next day at least 20,000 people assembled in the two squares, mostly chanting “thieves, thieves” at parliamentarians and cursing the Parliament. The movement of the Greek Indignados or Aganaktismenoi was born. It would prove to be massive, expansive, and innovative. Immediately after the initial demonstrations, the main squares in the two cities were occupied, and simultaneous protests began in almost all major urban centers of the country. Interest would focus on Syntagma Square, however, where the occupation was symbolically confronting Parliament, juxtaposing the public assembly and the symbolic seat of political power. In the following days, the occupation grew exponentially, eventually reaching almost 400,000 participants on June 5th. In our dataset, there is an event associated with the Aganaktismenoi on almost every single day until the end of the episode on June 30th.
In the introductory chapter of this volume, we presented our case for studying interaction dynamics between governments, challengers, and third-parties in the “middle ground” because we share Tilly’s (2008: 21) view that this level of analysis offers the “opportunity to look inside contentious performances and discern their dynamics” without losing the opportunity to systematically analyze these dynamics in a quantitative framework. In this present chapter, we further develop this middle ground by presenting a novel method for studying these interaction dynamics. We concur with Moore (2000) that most of the literature on the interaction between governments and challengers is based on cross-sectional analyses using national, aggregate yearly data, which is fundamentally inappropriate for the questions raised about the interactions we were studying. To deal with such questions, we need sequential data that allows us to specify how the different actors react to each others’ previous actions. Such sequential data not only allows us to causally connect all the actions constituting an episode as we have done in Chapter 6, but it also permits us to take a step further and uncover regularities that occur in the interaction between the protagonists of the conflict. Drawing on the construction of action sequences from Chapter 6, we now focus on the relationship between actions and their triggers and examine some of the main themes and mechanisms in the literature on contention politics through this novel methodological lens. In other words, we shall take the mechanism-centered approach from the narrative tradition and marry it with some of the basic tools of time-series methodology to infuse it with statistical rigor. This, in essence, is the dynamic aspect of Contentious Politics Analysis that we put forward in this volume.
At the outset of this volume, we situated our approach between two main paradigms prevailing in the field of contentious politics, taking up the challenge that Tilly (2008) put forward more than a decade ago. One, epitomized by the “narrative” approach, focuses on conventional storytelling, where explanation takes the form of an unfolding open-ended story. The other, protest event analysis (PEA) (see Hutter, 2014 and Koopmans and Rucht, 2002 for reviews), or what we called the epidemiological approach, focuses on a narrower set of action types: namely, instances of popular mobilization in the streets, and primarily relies on statistical techniques to explain the temporal regularities of protest actions or protest waves (Lorenzini et al, 2020). We aimed to accomplish this task by drawing on the programmatic Dynamics of Contention (McAdam et al. 2001) with an eye on preserving the conceptual depth of the former infused with the methodological rigor of the latter. In addressing “the middle ground” favored by Charles Tilly, we applied an analytical approach to the study of the dynamics of contention that allows for the systematic comparative analysis of causal patterns across individual narratives.
In the previous chapter, we have looked at the interactions between the three types of protagonists, independently of the context in which they interact. In the present chapter, we shall take context characteristics into account in order to identify the extent to which interaction dynamics are context-specific. In doing so, we shall focus on governments and analyze how their reactions to challenger and third-party actions depend on the context. The next chapter will change the perspective and analyze challengers’ reactions to government and third-party actions. In focusing on the governments’ reactions, we shall build on the analysis of the previous chapter. Concerning the governments’ reactions to challengers, the results found in the previous chapter were quite inconclusive. By and large, government behavior appeared to be independent of previous challenger actions, although the results to some extent supported the threat hypothesis with respect to repression. As far as the impact of third parties is concerned, we found some support for the isolation hypothesis: Governments had a higher propensity to repress challengers when they were not supported by third parties. The most important result, however, was the effectiveness of third-party mediation: Governments tended to honor mediation attempts with concessions. In the present chapter, we shall put these somewhat inconclusive results into perspective by taking into account the context-dependence of the governments’ reactions. In terms of mechanisms, we introduced environmental mechanisms that condition the relational mechanisms that we studied in a “context-blind” approach in the previous chapter.